The US Securities and Exchange Commission is looking at whether proxy advisers have become so influential when it comes to corporate elections that rules should be imposed in them to create greater transparency. At a recent SEC-hosted meeting, brokers, institutional investors, business groups, and unions debated about the role that proxy advisors Glass Lewis & Co. LLC and Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. have played in shareholder voting.
According to Bloomberg, research from non-profit organization Conference Board reports that with the growth in institutional investors’ percent of voting shares going up by over 50% there has been a growing demand for proxy research. However, there is concern by some that proxy advisors have a lot of power over the governance decisions of public companies yet they don’t have to contend with much Commission oversight. Critics think proxy advisors influence shareholders to vote blindly on proxy measures without getting disclosures about possible conflicts. Meantime, supporters of proxy advisors say that they provide an important service—especially to small institutional investors that lack the resources to assess every vote they make.
Mutual funds, pensions, and other mutual funds tend to be proxy advisers’ typical clients. SEC Commissioner Daniel Gallagher attributes proxy advisers’ “outsized role” to policy guidance issued by the agency in 2009 telling investment advisers they could fulfill an obligation to vote in the best interests of shareholders by depending on third party research.
It was just this year that Glass Lewis & Co. LLC and Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. consented to abide by a European Securities and Markets Authority recommendation that they obey a voluntary conduct code about disclosing the way they make recommendations and manage conflicts of interest. Still, Business Roundtable & the US Chamber of Commerce have asked for more disclosures.
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